As was reported yesterday by our own Arash Markazi, Lakers owner Jerry Buss has been elected into Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, class of 2010. The question isn't whether or not he deserves it, but why it's taken so long for the honor to come to a man whose impact on the game has been profound. Steve Springer covered Buss and the Lakers for over two decades with the Los Angeles Times, and recently sat down with him for an interview. On a recent PodKast, he explained how Dr. Buss transformed the sports landscape in L.A.:
"You have to remember, when Jerry Buss took over the Lakers, it was unheard of- unheard of- for an L.A. Lakers playoff game to have a higher rating than a Dodgers exhibition game. That just wasn't done. The Rams, when they came here after World War II, they owned this town, and then it became a Dodger town almost the day the Dodgers arrived... If there was basketball here, it was UCLA. It was John Wooden. And Buss just captured this town, and he did it certainly with superlative players, but in an entertainment town he did it with the Laker Girls, he did it with Showtime, he did it by keeping a bevy of stars courtside, and he did it with his own lifestyle. He was certainly the Hugh Hefner of sports. So he just took this town over for a sport that really was a second tier when he bought the team...
...When Buss took the team over in 1979, the NBA was in the toilet. It was falling apart. They were talking about contracting teams, there was a drug scandal, there were racial issues. So not only did he elevate this team to the top of the heap, but did it at a time when the league was falling apart."
Moreover, his concept of treating a visit to an NBA game not simply as a sporting event but as entertainment -- a show for paying customers containing stars and glamor like any Hollywood movie might -- became a marketing strategy for the entire league, and helps explain its enormous popularity today.
On its own, Buss' stewardship of the most successful franchise the NBA and perhaps all of sports over his 30 years would be HOF-worthy. Add in his impact on the league as a whole and it becomes a no-brainer.